US gun lobby vows to fight arms trade treaty at UN

US gun lobby vows to fight arms trade treaty at UN
Updated 29 December 2012

US gun lobby vows to fight arms trade treaty at UN

US gun lobby vows to fight arms trade treaty at UN

UNITED NATIONS: The leading US pro-gun group, the National Rifle Association, has vowed to fight a draft international treaty to regulate the $70 billion global arms trade and dismissed suggestions that a recent US school shooting bolstered the case for such a pact.
The UN General Assembly voted on Monday to restart negotiations in mid-March on the first international treaty to regulate conventional arms trade after a drafting conference in July collapsed because the US and other nations wanted more time. Washington supported Monday’s UN vote.
US President Barack Obama has come under intense pressure to tighten domestic gun control laws after the Dec. 14 shooting massacre of 20 children and six educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. His administration has since reiterated its support for a global arms treaty that does not curtail US citizens’ rights to own weapons.
Arms control campaigners say one person every minute dies as a result of armed violence and a convention is needed to prevent illicitly traded guns from pouring into conflict zones and fueling wars and atrocities.
In an interview with Reuters, NRA President David Keene said the Newtown massacre has not changed the powerful US gun lobby’s position on the treaty. He also made clear that the Obama administration would have a fight on its hands if it brought the treaty to the US Senate for ratification.
“We’re as opposed to it today as we were when it first appeared,” he said on Thursday. “We do not see anything in terms of the language and the preamble as being any kind of guarantee of the American people’s rights under the Second Amendment.”
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution protects the right to bear arms. Keene said the pact could require the US government to enact legislation to implement it, which the NRA fears could lead to tighter restrictions on gun ownership.
He added that such a treaty was unlikely to win the two-thirds majority in the US Senate necessary for approval.
“This treaty is as problematic today in terms of ratification in the Senate as it was six months ago or a year ago,” Keene said. Earlier this year a majority of senators wrote to Obama urging him to oppose the treaty.
UN delegates and gun-control activists say the July treaty negotiations fell apart largely because Obama, fearing attacks from Republican rival Mitt Romney before the Nov. 6 election if his administration was seen as supporting the pact, sought to kick the issue past the US vote.
US officials have denied those allegation.
The NRA claimed credit for the July failure, calling it at the time “a big victory for American gun owners.”
NRA IS ‘TELLING LIES’
The main reason the arms trade talks are taking place at all is that the United States — the world’s biggest arms trader, which accounts for more than 40 percent of global transfers in conventional arms — reversed US policy on the issue after Obama was first elected and decided in 2009 to support a treaty.
Supporters of the treaty accuse the NRA of deceiving the American public about the pact, which they say will have no impact on US domestic gun ownership and would apply only to exports. Last week, Amnesty International launched a campaign to counter what it said were NRA distortions about the treaty.
“The NRA is telling lies about the arms treaty to try to block US government support,” Michelle Ringuette of Amnesty International USA said about the campaign. “The NRA’s leadership must stop interfering in US foreign policy on behalf of the arms industry.”
Jeff Abramson of Control Arms said that as March approaches, “the NRA is going to be challenged in ways it never has before and that can affect the way things go” with the US government.
The draft treaty under discussion specifically excludes arms-related “matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.”
Among its key provisions is a requirement that governments make compliance with human rights norms a condition for foreign arms sales. It would also have states ban arms transfers when there is reason to believe weapons or ammunition might be diverted to problematic recipients or end up on illicit markets.
Keene said the biggest problem with the treaty is that it regulates civilian arms, not just military weapons.
According to the Small Arms Survey, roughly 650 million of the 875 million weapons in the world are in the hands of civilians. That, arms control advocates say, is why any arms trade treaty must regulate both military and civilian weapons.
Keene said the NRA would actively participate in the fight against the arms trade treaty in the run-up to the March negotiations. “We will be involved,” he warned, adding that it was not clear if the NRA would address UN delegates directly as the group did in July.
The NRA has successfully lobbied members of Congress to stop major new gun restrictions in the United States since the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. It also gives financial backing to pro-gun candidates.
EXPLOSIVE ISSUE
European and other UN delegates who support the arms trade treaty told Reuters on condition of anonymity they hoped Newtown would boost support for the convention in the United States, where gun control is an explosive political issue.
“Newtown has opened the debate within the United States on weapons controls in ways that it has not been opened in the past,” Abramson said, adding that “the conversation within the US will give the (Obama) administration more leeway.”
Keene rejected the idea of bringing the Newtown tragedy into the discussion of an arms trade treaty.
“I find it interesting that some of the folks that advocate the treaty say it would have no impact whatever within the United States but that it needs to be passed to prevent another occurrence of a school shooting such as took place in Newtown,” he said. “Both of those positions can’t be correct.”
Obama administration officials have tried to explain to US opponents of the arms trade pact that the treaty under discussion would not affect domestic gun sales and ownership.
“Our objectives for the ATT (arms trade treaty) have not changed,” a US official told Reuters. “We seek a treaty that fights illicit arms trafficking and proliferation, protects the sovereign right of states to conduct legitimate arms trade, and meets the concerns that we have articulated throughout.”
“In particular, we will not accept any treaty that infringes on the constitutional rights of US citizens to bear arms,” the official added.
Supporters of the treaty also worry that major arms producers like Russia, China, Iran, India, Pakistan and others could seek to render the treaty toothless by including loopholes and making key provisions voluntary, rather than mandatory.
The United States, like all other UN member states, can effectively veto the treaty since the negotiations will be conducted on the basis of consensus. That means the treaty must receive unanimous support in order to be approved in March.
But if it fails in March, UN delegations can put it to a vote in the 193-nation General Assembly, where diplomats say it would likely secure the required two-thirds majority.


Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
Updated 26 min 12 sec ago

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment

Emotional Australian leader announces end to Afghan deployment
  • PM Scott Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in line with the US decision to end its military operations there
  • Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan

SYDNEY: Prime Minister Scott Morrison choked back tears as he read the names Thursday of 41 Australians killed in Afghanistan to mark the end of his country’s involvement in the 20-year war.
Speaking at a televised news conference, Morrison said Australia would remove its remaining troops from Afghanistan in September in line with the US decision to end its military operations there.
Australia deployed 39,000 troops over the past 20 years as part of US and NATO-led operations against the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan, but has only 80 support personnel there today.
Morrison called the decision to leave Afghanistan “a significant milestone in Australia’s military history” that marked the end of a costly chapter for the country’s defense force.
He then read out the names of the 41 Australian soldiers killed in the conflict, halting several times as he choked back sobs, especially when mentioning Brett Till, a 31-year-old sergeant from his own Sydney constituency.
“The loss is great. The sacrifice immense,” he said.
“These brave Australians are among our greatest ever, who have served in the name of freedom.”
While Australia has not had a significant troop presence in Afghanistan in recent years after withdrawing its combat troops in late 2013, the war continues to take a toll and fuel controversy at home.
Veterans groups have pressured the government into launching a formal inquiry into a high number of suicides among Afghan veterans and other ex-servicemen and women.
The military and police are both actively investigating numerous war crimes alleged to have been committed by members of elite Special Air Services soldiers in Afghanistan.


US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
Updated 15 April 2021

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats

US imposes sanctions on Moscow, expels 10 Russian diplomats
  • The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners"
  • In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States”

WASHINGTON: The United States announced economic sanctions against Russia on Thursday and the expulsion of 10 diplomats in retaliation for what Washington says is the Kremlin's US election interference, a massive cyber attack and other hostile activity.
President Joe Biden ordered a widening of restrictions on US banks trading in Russian government debt, expelled 10 diplomats who include alleged spies, and sanctioned 32 individuals alleged to have tried to meddle in the 2020 presidential election, the White House said.
Biden's executive order "sends a signal that the United States will impose costs in a strategic and economically impactful manner on Russia if it continues or escalates its destabilizing international action," the White House said in a statement.
The statement listed in first place Moscow's "efforts to undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners."
This referred to allegations that Russian intelligence agencies mounted persistent disinformation and dirty tricks campaigns during the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, in part to help Donald Trump's candidacy.
The White House said the sanctions also respond to "malicious cyber activities against the United States and its allies and partners," referring to the massive so-called SolarWinds hack of US government computer systems last year.
The statement also called out Russia's extraterritorial "targeting" of dissidents and journalists and undermining of security in countries important to US national security.
In addition, the Department of Treasury, together with the European Union, Australia, Britain and Canada, sanctioned eight individuals and entities associated with Russia's occupation of Crimea in Ukraine.
In Brussels, the NATO military alliance said US allies "support and stand in solidarity with the United States, following its 15 April announcement of actions to respond to Russia's destabilizing activities."


India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000
Updated 15 April 2021

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000

India’s biggest cities shut down as new virus cases hit 200,000
  • New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities
  • The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks

NEW DELHI: India’s two largest cities imposed stringent restrictions on movement and one planned to use hotels and banquet halls to treat coronavirus patients as new infections in the country shot past 200,000 Thursday amid a devastating surge that is straining a fragile health system.
The soaring cases and deaths come just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic — and have forced the country to delay exports of vaccines abroad. India is a major producer of COVID-19 shots, and its pivot to focus on domestic demand has weighed heavily on global efforts to end the pandemic.
New Delhi announced stay-at-home orders for the weekend, though essential workers will be able to move about if they have a pass from local authorities. Restaurants, malls, gyms and spas will be shut down. Movie theaters will close on weekends, but can operate on weekdays at a third of their capacity.
Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi’s top elected official, said that despite rise in infections, 5,000 hospital beds are still available in the capital and more capacity is being added. But still, more than a dozen hotels and wedding banquet halls were ordered to be converted into COVID-19 centers where doctors from nearby hospitals will treat the moderately ill.
“The surge is alarming,” said S.K. Sarin, a government health expert in New Delhi.
The moves in the capital came after similar measures were imposed in the worst-hit state of Maharashtra, home to financial capital, Mumbai. The bustle of India’s biggest city ebbed after authorities closed most industries, businesses and public places Wednesday night and put limits on the movement of people for 15 days. Train and plane travel was still allowed, however.
In recent days, the city has seen an exodus of panic-stricken day laborers, hauling backpacks and flocking to overcrowded trains.
Dozens of other towns and cities have also imposed nighttime curfews.
The surge in cases was weighing on hospitals in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and several other states, where many reported a shortage of oxygen tanks. Imran Sheikh, a resident of the city of Pune in Maharashtra, said he was asked to supply his own oxygen tank for a relative undergoing COVID-19 treatment.
Cremation and burial grounds in the worst-hit areas were finding it difficult to cope with the increasing number of bodies arriving for last rites, according to Indian media reports.
Shahid Jamil, a virologist, said the recent local and state elections with massive political rallies and a major Hindu festival during which hundreds of thousands of devotees bathed in the Ganges river were super-spreader events.
The 200,739 new infections recorded Thursday are about twice the number of daily cases that were recorded during the last peak, in September. The Health Ministry also reported 1,038 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll over 173,000.
India’s toll of 14 million cases puts it second behind the United States. It ranks fourth in deaths after the US, Brazil and Mexico — though, with nearly 1.4 billion people, it has a much larger population than any of those countries. Experts say even these figures are likely an undercount.
As it struggles with the caseload, India is ramping up its vaccination drive. The Health Ministry said the total vaccinations crossed 114 million with more than 3 million doses administered on Wednesday.
When infections began plummeting in India in September, many concluded the worst had passed. Masks and social distancing were abandoned. When cases began rising again in February, authorities were left scrambling.


Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
Updated 15 April 2021

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal

Blinken in unannounced visit to Afghanistan to sell US troop withdrawal
  • NATO says its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan are also departing within a few months

KABUL: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public on President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America’s longest-running war.
Blinken was meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, and civic figures, a day after Biden announced that the remaining 2,500 US soldiers in Afghanistan would be coming home by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that led to the US invasion.
His trip also came after NATO immediately followed suit, saying its roughly 7,000 non-American forces in Afghanistan would be departing within a few months, ending the foreign military presence that had been a fact of life for a generation of Afghans already reeling from more than 40 years of conflict.
Blinken sought to reassure the Afghan leadership that the withdrawal did not mean an end to the US-Afghan relationship.
“I wanted to demonstrate with my visit the ongoing to commitment of the United States to the Islamic Republic and the people of Afghanistan,” Blinken told Ghani as they met at the presidential palace in Kabul. “The partnership is changing, but the partnership itself is enduring.”
“We respect the decision and are adjusting our priorities,” Ghani told Blinken, expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of US troops.
Blinken arrived in the Afghan capital from Brussels where he and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin briefed NATO officials on the move and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg announced the alliance would also be leaving.
Biden, Blinken, Austin and Stoltenberg have all sought to put a brave face on the pullout, maintaining that the US- and NATO-led missions to Afghanistan had achieved their goal of decimating Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network that launched the 9/11 attacks and clearing the country of terrorist elements that could use Afghan soil to plot similar strikes.
However, that argument has faced pushback from some U.S, lawmakers and human rights advocates who say the withdrawal will result in the loss of freedoms that Afghans enjoyed after the Taliban was ousted from power in late 2001.
Later, in a meeting with Abdullah, Blinken repeated his message, saying that “we have a new chapter, but it is a new chapter that we’re writing together.”
“We are grateful to your people, your country, your administration,” Abdullah said.
Despite billions of US dollars in aid, Afghanistan 20 years on has a poverty rate of 52 percent according to World Bank figures. That means more than half of Afghanistan’s 36 million people live on less than $1.90 a day. Afghanistan is also considered one of the worst countries in the world to be a woman according to the Georgetown Institute for Women Peace and Security.
For many Afghans the past two decades have been disappointing, as corruption has overtaken successive governments and powerful warlords have amassed wealth and loyal militias who are well armed. Many Afghans fear worsening chaos even more once America leaves.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are at a stalemate but are supposed to resume later this month in Istanbul.
Under an agreement signed between the Trump administration and the Taliban last year, the US was to have completed its military withdrawal by May 1. Although Biden is blowing through that deadline, angering the Taliban leadership, his plan calls for the pull-out to begin on May 1. The NATO withdrawal will commence the same day.
“It is time to end America’s longest war,” Biden said in his announcement in Washington on Tuesday, but he added that the US will “not conduct a hasty rush to the exit.”
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” said Biden, who delivered his address from the White House Treaty Room, the same location where President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. “I am now the fourth United States president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Biden, along with Blinken and Austin in Brussels, vowed that the US would remain committed to Afghanistan’s people and development.
“Bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan or our support for the country,” Blinken said. “Our support, our engagement and our determination remain.”
Austin also said that the US military, after withdrawing from Afghanistan, will keep counterterrorism “capabilities” in the region to keep pressure on extremist groups operating within Afghanistan. Asked for details, he declined to elaborate on where those US forces would be positioned or in what numbers.


China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
Updated 15 April 2021

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say

China gives green light to nuclear units to cut carbon, sources say
  • China aims to become "carbon neutral" by 2060
  • China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC)

BEIJING/SINGAPORE: China approved the construction of five nuclear power units, with total installed capacity of 4.9 GW, roughly 10% of the country’s total, two sources said, as Beijing strives for alternatives to fossil fuel to meet its climate goals.

China needs to speed up its nuclear development to achieve its pledge to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak before 2030 and become “carbon neutral” by 2060.

The world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter has lagged behind its previous target of operating 58 gigawatts of nuclear power capacity by 2020, partly as the Fukushima nuclear accident slowed down approvals of new projects.

China’s state council approved five nuclear projects, which will be developed by China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC), at a meeting on Wednesday, one of the two sources familiar with the matter said.

Officials, including those from the National Energy Administration and National Nuclear Safety Bureau, attended the meeting at which the development of the nuclear industry in the country was discussed, four sources said. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

“Nuclear power is a ‘have to do’ choice if China aims to achieve the targets of bringing carbon emission by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2060,” an official from the Nuclear Safety Bureau said.

The five reactors approved include four regular nuclear units — number 7 and number 8 at Tianwan nuclear power plant in eastern Jiangsu province, and number 3 and number 4 in Xudapu in northeastern Liaoning province.

All four will use Russian-made VVER-1200 technology and have individual capacity of 1.2 gigawatts (GW), two of the sources said.

The government also approved a small, 125-MW module reactor (SMR) demonstration project at Changjiang nuclear power plant in Hainan province.

In one of the country’s first experiments of small reactors aimed at better economics, CNNC will use its home-grown ACP100 technology.

Construction of three of the five units, the SMR and one each from Tianwan and Xudapu, is expected to start later this year and is scheduled for completion in 2026, one official said.

“They are moving ahead as earlier scheduled,” the official said, adding that means China has re-established its normal pace in advancing new projects.

The State Council and CNNC did not immediately respond to Reuters requests seeking comment.

China is also accelerating the development of an upgraded model of its home-grown third generation nuclear technology, Hualong Two.

China’s Nuclear Energy Association expects the country to have installed or have under construction a total of 200 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2035.